Gas price fixing whistleblower says sacking is inevitable for workers who speak out

Seth Freedman

Seth Freedman - Credit: Archant

Seth Freedman’s dismissal from ICIS Heren following his whistle-blowing on gas price fixing is another example of the poor way people who speak out are treated

Seth Freedman, the Muswell Hill resident who blew the whistle on gas price fixing, has been sacked from his role at price reporting agency ICIS Heren.

The dismissal comes after Mr Freedman publicly reported his suspicions about unusual market activity in the wholesale gas trade, that he had witnessed as part of his job, before Christmas.

At the time, Mr Freedman was not reprimanded for speaking out, because it was part of his role as an analyst. Since then ICIS Heren has cited lack of trust from traders working with Mr Freedman as one reason for his dismissal.

“It is a bit of a shock but I could see it coming, historically whistleblowers are eventually dismissed,” said Mr Freedman. “You can’t expect to whistle-blow in general and not to be reprimanded for it. Bosses will protect each other.

“I feel that they were embarrassed that they didn’t act quickly and I made them look bad by reporting it myself.

“They weren’t quick enough to go to the regulators with the information themselves and were quite apathetic. It was very collegiate, passing small bits of information rather than giving all information to the regulators.

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“My accusation is that the bosses of my company are too cosy with the traders they are supposed to be monitoring.

“As an individual if something is wrong I expect to say something to my bosses and for them to act on it.”

He added: “I feel victimised. It doesn’t encourage other people to speak up when they know what happens to whistle-blowers.”

The sacking raises fresh questions about the treatment of people who draw attention to malpractice or corruption in their workplace.

Dr Kim Holt, the health worker who spoke out about the failings of the hospital Baby P was referred to, received similar treatment in 2007 when she was forced from her position as the designated doctor for children in care at St Ann’s Hospital in Haringey.

Shortly after blowing the whistle about stretched resources, hospital bosses refused to let Dr Holt go to work because they said she was suffering from too much stress.

While off work, the hospital tried to pay-off Dr Holt to keep her silence about low standards.

In 2008, an inexperienced replacement doctor saw Baby P at the hospital and let him return to his home, where it is now known his parents were abusing him.

Reinstated in 2011, Dr Holt now campaigns for better treatment of whistleblowers in the health sector through her group PatientsFirst.

“We are campaigning for an end to the victimisation of whistleblowers and an end to the use of gagging clauses in the health service,” said Dr Holt.

“Whistleblowers are often treated in hostile and unhelpful ways and sacking is fairly frequent.”

In 2010 employment tribunal statistics showed that over a 10 year period the number of employment tribunals related to mistreatment, victimisation and sacking following whistle-blowing had increased ten-fold.

Like Mr Freedman’s and Dr Holt’s, many cases people were not been dismissed for the actual act of speaking out.

The paradox is that whistleblowers are often trying to improve the industry they are working in by exposing wrongdoing, yet do not receive much help from their employers.

Even colleagues, often fearing repercussions, hesitate to provide support.

Mr Freedman is in the middle of an internal appeal process that will lead to an appeal based on unfair dismissal charges.

“I have actually had members of the public who I don’t know who have also been whistleblowers contact me to offer me help,” he said. “There is a community of whistleblowers out there who know how badly I have been treated.”

He added: “They (ICIS Heren) have dismissed me for doing my job.

“They didn’t discipline me at the time, because nothing I did was actually anything I shouldn’t have done.

“Now it is going to be difficult for me to find work within the industry. I think when some people get high up in big corporations, their morals disappear.”